Review: Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

I loved the first book by Knecht, Who is Vera Kelly? so I was very happy to receive a review copy of its sequel. These books combine a couple of things I really love – a complicated main character, a mystery, and the history and politics of other countries. In the first novel, heroine Vera was an undercover CIA agent in Argentina in the 1960s. In that book we learn a lot more about Vera’s own history, the trauma she went through as a teenager and how she ended up as an agent in a time when no one expects a woman to do this kind of work.

In the sequel, Vera’s home from Argentina and quit the CIA. She’s trying to hold down a regular job and a relationship but loses both of them in the same day — first her girlfriend breaks up with her, and then she’s fired when her employer finds out she’s gay. Relying on her skills learned in the CIA, she sets up an office as a private investigator. Her first client is a couple looking for a boy who was sent to New York by parents imprisoned by the political regime in the Dominican Republic.

This sets Vera off on an investigation into the foster care system and the Dominican community, both in New York and abroad. She’s determined to rescue this child even though everyone warns her against it. Vera is fearless, prickly and difficult – just the kind of character I like. Along the way she has to deal with her own family history and try to resolve the issues that are holding her back in her relationships. As with the first book, Knecht explores LGBTQ issues of the time, both legal and social, like Vera’s firing and raids on suspected lesbian bars.

One thing I liked about both books is the attention Knecht pays to the details of investigative work. I suppose the reason I like mysteries is because I like puzzle-solving, so I’m fascinated by the often mundane work of an agent or PI — the combing through papers, the hours of observation, the following of one small detail to the next. And it makes perfect sense that the skills Vera already learned as an undercover operative would lend themselves to investigative work.

While I loved the story in the first book, this one is even better, because there’s less back and forth between Vera’s past and her present. I would definitely recommend reading them in order, though you don’t absolutely have to, as this book gives you enough background to understand Vera’s conflicted feelings.

Vera is so alone and so guarded, I couldn’t help but feel for her even though she tries to keep everyone at a distance. Maybe the tough-as-nails investigator with the heart of gold will strike some readers as a trope, but this book, like the first, felt fresh and original.

Note: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Tin House Books. This book publishes June 16, 2020.

  1 comment for “Review: Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery by Rosalie Knecht

  1. June 7, 2020 at 8:59 am

    Great review! I really enjoyed the first Vera Kelly novel, and can’t wait to get to this one now 🙂

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